(criteria listed below)
Round #2 (Winner)
Location: An underground parking garage
Object: A bottle of champagne
Number of words: 1,000 or less
Synopsis: The desire for an old-fashioned romance leads one man to his death.
An Affair to Remember
Nat liked to think of himself as a Renaissance man. While he preferred a single-malt scotch to champagne, he appreciated the romance of bubbles chasing upward along the gentle curve of a crystal flute. He knew wine and how to pair it. He knew how to cook and how to dress. He disliked the term ‘metrosexual’ but accepted it and the dusting of contempt it held when his friends graced him with that title. He had learned long ago to brush that sort of thing off, like a trace of lint off a suitcoat.
Nat didn’t just keep abreast of current events via the newspaper, Time, and Newsweek; he also read the classics, old and modern. He could, and occasionally did, quote snippets of poetry or philosophers to accent a point or codify a thought.
The elevator dinged and Nat stepped in. The groomed lines of his mustache curved upward. He had, he acknowledged with self-deprecation, many leather-bound books. And, continuing on with that Anchorman theme, he was now stepping into a glass case of emotion. The elevator doors closed behind him and he turned to look out over the city.
The emotion contained within the glass case of the elevator, and the moving chambers of his heart, was longing.
The city at night was breathtaking. His office was in one of the taller buildings, and the ride to the parking structure beneath it was always a visual pleasure. There was still a hint of light clinging to the horizon, but his city was decked out in black velvet and adorned with glittering jewels. Diamond headlights and ruby taillights sparkled and danced as she beckoned him home.
Lately, Nat was gripped with longing. For romance. For a relationship of substance. He might allude to it in a humorous bon mot while out for drinks with friends, but in reality that longing was deadly serious. He ached for something with weight, with heft. Not just the gasping, momentary surge in the dark toward another body, but something that transcended flesh. He longed for that connection.
And lately, dating had lost its appeal. It was becoming apparent that most people his age lacked a certain subtlety of character he found attractive. They lacked mystery, grace, and – yes he knew it sounded snobbish – an element of refinement and class.
The elevator began its silent descent to the parking garage below.
A quarter of the way down, Nat’s eyes searched the face of an adjacent, high rise apartment building, and found their mark. Coupled with longing was now a blush of shame. He’d turned into a voyeur. He wasn’t proud of it, but he couldn’t stop.
Two months prior, he’d been making this same trip down from office to car and saw them: a couple. Just the dark silhouette of them dancing, really, framed in the sliding glass doors of the terrace. The image had so struck him, however, he hadn’t been able to tear his eyes away. They’d been floating – dancing, in candlelight – with the wonder of the city as their backdrop. They’d been bubbles waltzing inside a champagne glass.
Since that night, he’d searched for and found that apartment again and again. And he’d been rewarded by that same scene – moments that infused him with a similar longing – a handful of times since then.
The apartment owner – Nat now thought of him as Cary Grant – would appear, looking as if he’d stepped out of a classic, black and white film. There would be champagne. Candlelight. Dancing. Nat could almost hear the music: something with a full band and the sultry slide of a bow across an upright bass.
Cary Grant would guide his partner along the edges of the terrace window with that athletic, fluid grace every good, leading man should possess. And by the time Nat’s elevator would plunge into the darkness of the parking garage below, the seduction would have begun. Cary Grant’s head would have just dipped to his dance partner’s neck. His partner would tense for a moment, but as expected, would then surrender to the seduction.
There was a different partner every time, but that didn’t trouble Nat. The tableau was flawlessly perfect. He knew it was just a matter of finding the right partner for its happy ending.
Halfway down, a tiny flame caught Nat’s eye. The glow of candlelight pulsed to life against a familiar window and, then, Cary Grant appeared. Alone. Although dressed in his usual evening attire, he was still in mid-toilette. He hadn’t yet donned a tie, and his white shirt was opened, leaving a shadowed ‘V’ of skin revealed.
Nat watched as Cary Grant leaned a forearm against the window and then, a moment later, his forehead to the glass. It was then he noticed the man’s shirt sleeves were rolled to his elbow and realized: he hadn’t caught the man preparing for a date at all, but caught him alone.
The elevator abruptly cut the scene to black as it dropped into the underground parking garage. It left Nat struck numb and slightly breathless. Cary Grant had not simply been alone. He’d been lonely. Just as Nat was lonely.
The elevator dinged, the doors opened, and the tie Nat had slipped off during his descent slid from his slack grip.
Cary Grant stood there, stunning in his rolled shirtsleeves, a bottle of sweating champagne gripped in one fist. His eyes shone liquid promise in the garage’s dim lighting, but the hopeful smile he flashed was white and sharp as he took a step toward Nat and lifted the other hand in invitation.
Judges’ comments separated by ellipses.
WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY –
This is creepy and unsettling — it feels, certainly, REAR WINDOW-esque. The narrative flows well. The mechanics — grammar, punctuation, and spelling — are sound. The visuals are expertly rendered: “Diamond headlights and ruby taillights” and “they’d been bubbles waltzing in a champagne glass” aren’t only vivid, they tie in with the single effect as far as the “Cary Grant” brand of corny old elegance. Great job…………………………….I loved this story. Subtle horror at its best. So many great details–I feel Nat’s lonliness. I loved this line: “They’d been bubbles waltzing inside a champagne glass.” Truly, this is a masterpiece of flash…..
WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK –
The synopsis states that Nat is lead to his own death, but that’s not clear. Does he jump out of the glass elevator (if one looks closely at the line “Diamond headlights and ruby tallights sparkled and danced as she beckoned him home” could be taken as his final leap if the ending were clear)? We need a few more hints that this is what he’s done, because the ghost of the Grant-esque character appearing in the parking garage isn’t enough to tell us that. At best, what we might glean from the ending is that he’s at peace because he’s finally seen his character without the woman.//The opening paragraph not only is wonderfully grounded, we get an instant impression of Nat. The issue, however, is that it goes on a bit long — what does the Anchorman position (or film, if that’s what’s being referenced) have to do with anything? We don’t get to see Nat’s conflict until almost three quarters down the first page. Cutting some of the business about the books and keeping up with the news would solve this problem of a slow opening–and since it never comes back, the story won’t miss it…………………………….It’s difficult for me to give a suggestion, other than perhaps maybe that there should be a heavier “tell” about Mr Cary Grant. If I didn’t have the synopsis, some of the really subtle hints might have gone right over my head. If I didn’t know this was horror, I might not have caught the ending….